DENVER – Secretary of State Scott Gessler will need to cut spending by $2.5 million and eliminate one or two jobs to keep his office’s budget afloat, budget experts said this week.
Gessler is running for the Republican nomination for governor, and he blames his office’s budget troubles on an election bill that Democrats passed in 2013 with no GOP votes.
His office had a $7 million surplus in a $20 million budget a year-and-a-half ago. The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee is now worried his budget will be busted this year.
The Secretary of State’s Office oversees elections and business filings. It gets no taxpayer money and pays for its operations with fees on business filings.
As the Herald reported in January, Gessler cut fees several times, which reduced his surplus by at least $3.5 million. He blames the rest of the shortfall on the election bill, which had unanticipated costs, including an electronic pollbook and steeper costs to reimburse counties for running elections.
But JBC members placed the blame on Gessler’s spending on other items, especially a Business Intelligence Center to let private companies harness the data his office collects from business filings.
“When he came into office, there was a pretty good cash fund balance. It just seems like we’ve been dealing with two years of spending, spending, spending that we’ve gotten to this point,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.
It’s still a mystery as to why Gessler’s budget is in such trouble. Although he has blamed the election bill, he has requested only an extra $500,000 to pay for added reimbursement to counties, which now have to send mail ballots to all registered voters.
He pegged the cost of the electronic pollbook at $1.1 million, but his office has enough money left from federal grants to pay for the pollbook.
The JBC sent Gessler a letter this week, asking for a more detailed explanation by Feb. 17 of how he intends to make his budget.
Gessler and the six-member JBC have a testy relationship, which devolved into insults Wednesday at a hearing Gessler did not attend.
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said he would rather not invite Gessler to appear personally at the committee.
“I’m reminded of the old saying that you should never wrestle with a pig because you’ll get muddy and the pig will enjoy it,” Steadman said.
Later that day, Gessler ripped Democratic members of the committee in an emailed statement.
“While the Democrats on the committee pat themselves on their backs for their partisan performance in the people’s house, Coloradans are left wondering, ‘These are the people we elected?’” Gessler said.
His spokesman, Rich Coolidge, said Thursday that Gessler would be more than happy to talk to the JBC.
“We’re going to have to correct the record on a lot of what they said, which was just blatantly wrong,” Coolidge said.
The JBC resisted approving Gessler’s Business Intelligence Center last year. Gerou said she voted for it only after getting yelled at by Gessler and Republican leaders.
Gessler and Gov. John Hickenlooper both have promoted the idea. This month, they announced a $100,000 challenge to software developers to build a mobile phone app to harness the data Gessler collects. All the money is coming from Gessler’s budget, said Hickenlooper’s spokesman, Eric Brown.
Now, Gerou is worried that Gessler will have to hike business fees in order to pay for his office’s increased spending.
“The fact that they cut them during the recession was very helpful,” Gerou said.